Tag Archives: Volleyball Coaching Wizards

Do Not Judge It, Solve It

One of the key inspirations behind the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is Julio Velasco.  By any measure, Julio Velasco is one of the best, most innovative, most important volleyball coaches in history. Every time you watch volleyball, the game that you see is (partly) his product.  His influence on the game is profound.

But the reason he is such an inspiration for the project, is that while most volleyball people know his name and know that he is one of the most famous coaches in the world, outside the Italian / Spanish speaking world they have no idea about his actual teachings or philosophies or methodologies; the things that made his influence so profound.  The same applies to many other great, unknown volleyball coaches.

The goal of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is to make that knowledge more widely known and understood.

As an example, below are two clips from presentations Velasco made that have been subtitled into English.  Just as a taste.  They are great.

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Coach’s Books And Great Coaches

One of my favourite things I am doing now is the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, in which my partner John Forman and I interview great volleyball coaches with the view to share their insights with other coaches.  So far the project has been enormously fun and rewarding.  One of the highlights was a recently recorded (and soon to be released) interview with Swedish coaching legend, Anders Kristiansson.  At some point in the interview I suggested that he should write a book. He laughed and quoted his friend Julio Velasco, who apparently said…

“If a coach has written a book he is not a good coach.  A good coach is thinking only about his next practice.”

I of course laughed at appropriate moment, noted the irony out loud, and silently put my own book plans on hold.  I have written before the coach’s books should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway, but this got me thinking a little bit more.

As so often happens in these cases, shortly after the conversation I came across documentaries about two of the great current American coaches.  As it happens those two coaches, Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick, are virtually unanimously considered to be the best coach in the NBA and NFL respectively.  Neither has written a book.  Neither has an identifiable slogan or method that they have trademarked and marketed.  For that reason, I think both documentaries are especially valuable, not least because they contain first person interviews.  I embed them here without further comment.

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs

Note: The title says 1/6, but it automatically plays all six.

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots

Note: The embedded video may not play, but the original on YouTube will.

Honour And Respect

One of the most common everyday challenges for a coach is his / her team playing at the level of the opponent. Against a better opponent it is rarely a problem, except that the coach often wistfully wishes the team always played like that. Against weaker teams it is a huge frustration, as ‘unnecessary’ sets or even matches are lost. To complicate matters further, in some places (mostly the United States) ethical pressures are placed on the coach to restrict the team’s performance so as not to risk ‘running up the score’ and therefore ‘disrespecting’ an opponent. In extreme cases coaches can be censured, suspended or even fired for winning by too much.

This is not a mindset that I can easily comprehend. As a competitor the most disrespected I have ever felt was when an opponent did not take my team seriously and therefore gave less than their best effort. Big losses never discouraged me, rather they inspired me to work harder, to work smarter, to get better. As a coach I have felt the disappointment from our opponents when they realised we would not be playing our strongest lineup in that match, and I understood their point of view. We were not taking them as seriously as they felt they deserved to be. These matches always make me much more nervous than any championship playoff.

Recently the topic has come up twice in a volleyball context. During a Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, top Scottish coach Simon Loftus stated that “the best thing you can do to a team is beat them 25-0”. In other words, you don’t mess about, or ‘take the mickey, but play with as much concentration and focus as you would for a championship match (see below for the clip). At the currently being held FIVB Women’s World Cup in Japan, USA defeated Algeria by the set scores of 25-7, 25-2, 25-5. While such a score would lead to many of his colleagues fearing for his job, USA coach Karch Kiraly, as a player one of the greatest competitors of all time in any sport, put it in into perspective in the post match press conference.

“It doesn’t matter who’s across the net; we honour our opponents, we honour our sport, and we honour our programme and team. I like what we did today.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Honour and respect means playing at the maximum of your ability.

My Coaching Influences

In this clip from my Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview (soon to be available in full) I talk about my initial coaching influences.  I name John Dunstan and Geoff Hart as my first two major influences.  Like so often happens, in the spur of the moment I didn’t mention why they had influenced me which is the most important part of it.  Luckily I have a forum in which I can redress that issue.

John Dunstan was one of my very first coaches as a junior.  From him I learnt about how a team functions, and in particular how it works together in training to improve.  Basically I learnt the concept of co-opetition, close enough to thirty years before I heard the term (and before it was applied to volleyball?).  This concept has informed literally every practice I have conducted as a coach, professional or otherwise.

Geoff Hart was an Australian who played collegiately at Pepperdine and with the National Team before becoming assistant coach during the time I had a coaching scholarship with the team.  From him I learnt that you need to have a concept of how all parts of the game should fit together.  And perhaps more importantly, I learnt that if you have a strong concept you never need to be afraid of being challenged or questioned on any part of it.

Volleyball Coaching Wizards

Apart from giving me an outlet to write about things in volleyball that interest and intrigue me, the main themes of this blog (and Facebook page and Twitter feed) are to share ideas from backgrounds to which not all coaches necessarily have access, and to maintain volleyball history.  Volleyball as a sport has a very poor sense of its own history and what little literature there is fractured into smaller language groups.  For example, English speakers have no real access to the collected wisdom of incredible coaching talents like Platonov or Velasco whose main work has been carried out in other languages.

In another attempt to address this issue John Forman (blogger at ‘Coaching Volleyball’) and I have begun a new project entitled ‘Volleyball Coaching Wizards’.  The goal of the project is to identify and interview as many of the great volleyball coaches in the world (wizards, if you will) and disseminate their accumulated wisdom in as many forms as we can.  In our minds, coaching wizards do not only coach professionals, and are not necessarily famous.  They can just as equally coach high school teams or national teams but their knowledge and experience will be helpful to all.  Initially, the interviews will be available as downloadable audio files and ultimately we would like to put them into a book form.

Until now we have had about 200 coaches nominated (you can nominate a wizard here), 30 confirmations and seven completed interviews.  This will be a long term project.  Details of subscriptions are currently being finalised and will be released soon.  In the meantime, sign up for our mailing list here, and receive a link to one of the first interviews.  And support us on Facebook and Twitter and You Tube.  On those platforms you can also link to clips from some of the completed interviews to give you a taste of what we have in mind right now, but the finished project will be moulded by the input of many.

One of the first interviews was with well known Canadian coach Stelio DeRocco.  Completely unprompted (I promise!) he explained how he saw the value of the ‘Volleyball Coaching Wizards’.